Davis and Strayer Set to Lead Nittany Lion Wrestlers Into 2007-08 Campaign
Sept. 17, 2007
STATE COLLEGE, Pa. - The Penn State Nittany Lion wrestling team, under the veteran tutelage of head coach Troy Sunderland, will head into the 2007-08 season riding the crest of two straight superb seasons and featuring the perfect blend of veteran strength and youthful potential.
Two All-Americans and three other qualifiers from the 2006-07 season return as do a number of key red-shirts. Add to that one of the nation's top recruiting classes and the Nittany Lions appear poised to start another journey towards Big Ten and NCAA glory. A total of seven starters from last year return along with a number of veterans who have started in years past.
"We have a talented mix on this year's roster and our staff is looking forward to working with this group this year," Sunderland said. "With two All-Americans and a number of qualifiers returning, it gives our outstanding younger wrestlers the chance to work with - and learn from - the best."
Leading the charge for Penn State will be three-time All-American Phil Davis (Harrisburg, Pa.) at 197 pounds and returning All-American Jake Strayer (South Fork, Pa.). Strayer was an All-American at 133 last year and will move up to 141 this season. In addition to that duo, national qualifiers Mark McKnight (McDonald, Pa.), Bubba Jenkins (Virginia Beach, Va.) and Dan Vallimont (Lake Hopatcong, N.J.) all return. McKnight is a three-time qualifier at 125, Jenkins qualified last year as a true freshman at 157 and will wrestle at 149 this season while Vallimont reached the `round of 12' as a freshman at 149 last season and will move up to 157 for the new campaign.
125: McKnight went 23-11 last year, bolting out to a 16-1 mark and a No. 2 national ranking. The senior from McDonald, Pa., will look to negotiate the Big Ten season as well as the Big Ten Championships in order to prep himself for an All-America run in March. McKnight has a superb 88-34 career record, wrestling for two seasons at Buffalo before debuting for PSU last year. Backing McKnight up will be red-shirt freshmen Eric Caschera (South Williamsport, Pa.) and Adam Smetana (Valencia, Pa.) as well as true freshman Desmond Moore (Easton, Pa.). Caschera went 3-10 in unattached action last season while Smetana was 1-2. Smetana will be out for much of the first term recovering from surgery. Moore finished third at the PIAA championships last year for Easton High School. Part-time 2005-06 starter Brad Pataky (Clearfield, Pa.), who red-shirted last year, will utilize an Olympic red-shirt this season as he strives to make the U.S. squad that will compete in Beijing in 2008.
133: With All-American Strayer moving up to 141, this lower weight class will see a spirited battle for the starting spot. Senior Tim Haas (Camp Hill, Pa.) will have a real shot at grabbing the starting spot here after taking an injury red-shirt in 2006-07. Haas was a starter throughout most of 2005-06 at 125 before an injury cut his season short just before March's tournament run. Haas, who was 5-0 in early season action last year, was 14-7 at 125 two years ago and has a 22-8 overall mark, including a 6-5 record in duals. Reserves at 133 could come from Penn State's talented group of 125-pounders or, perhaps, a member of a very deep corps of 141-pounders. Look for true freshman Chad Mitchell (Lilburn, Ga.) to compete at this weight. Mitchell was a Georgia State Champion in high school.
141: Strayer heads up a weight to the 141-pound class. The junior went 27-8 at 133 last year and walked away with a seventh place finish at nationals to earn his first All-America tag. He finished in the `round of 12' as a freshman a year prior. Strayer was 16-3 in duals in 2006-07 and was 7-4 in the post-season. He heads into his first year at 141 with a 53-14 career record. Five freshmen are in line to push Strayer for mat time as well. Mike Eagan (Morris Knolls, N.J.) is a red-shirt freshman who went 8-11 unattached last year. Matt Jacobs (Phoenix, Md.) Frank Molinaro (Barnegat, N.J.), Colby Pisani (Ridgway, Pa.) and Garrett Scott (Alexandria, Pa.) are all true freshmen ready to take their shots at this weight. Jacobs won the 2007 Maryland State title at 141; Molinaro is a three-time New Jersey State Champion and was the National High School Runner-Up; Pisani (who could also wrestle at 149) had two top five finishes at PIAAs; and Scott was a three-time PIAA Champion during his high school days. Scott was not a full-time student nor on the wrestling roster at Penn State a year ago and heads into 2007-08 as a true freshman.
149: Jenkins, a qualifier at 157 a year ago as a true freshman, moves down to 149 this year, a more natural weight for the 2007 FILA Junior World Champion. Fresh off an outstanding summer of freestyle action, Jenkins heads into the new season looking to make a run at All-America laurels at a lighter weight. The Virginia-native went 23-12 last year, with a 7-5 dual match mark and a 4-4 record in Big Ten action. He was 4-5 in the post-season. Red-shirt freshman Christian Harr (Hollidaysburg, Pa.) will also compete at this weight. Harr was 6-5 in unattached action last year. Joining Harr as a contender for action at this weight will be sophomore Adam Lynch (Mifflinburg, Pa.). Lynch was 4-4 at Navy last year and finished as high as third at the Pennsylvania championships.
157: Vallimont had an outstanding season last year, reaching the NCAA `round of 12' as a freshman at 149. The New Jersey native will move up to 157 where he will look to improve upon that, take the next step and become an All-American for the Nittany Lions. Vallimont went 22-12 in 2006-07, including a 12-7 mark in duals and a 5-3 record in Big Ten action. He was 6-4 in post-season action as well. Vallimont ended the year ranked No. 12 in the nation. Junior Jon Clemens (McVeytown, Pa.) is coming off an 11-8 season last year and has a 15-10 career record. Craig Owsiany (Phoenixville, Pa.) returns for his sophomore season at 157 as well. Owsiany was 0-2 last year. Joining the trio of veterans at this weight will be a stable of talented newcomers. Freshman Micah Bollinger (Mifflinburg, Pa.), who could also wrestle at 165, was a Bronze Medal winner at High School Nationals and a PIAA Runner-Up. Tim Darling (Nazareth, Pa.) is a three-time PIAA State Champion and won the High School National Championship as well. Shane Everett (Saylorsburg, Pa.), who could also wrestle at 165, was a state qualifier at Pleasant Valley High School.
165: Dave Rella (Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio) returns for his second go-round at 165 pounds after a solid freshman season. The talented Ohio-native went 21-13 as a true freshman. He posted 19 dual match points and three Big Ten wins. This year, the sophomore will be looking to earn his first trip to nationals and make some noise at NCAAs. Junior Mark Friend (Libertyville, Ill.) will also look to be a factor at this weight. Friend saw action as a starter for Penn State last year as well, going 6-5 overall, including a 3-2 dual match record. Friend heads into his junior year with a 9-7 career record. Red-shirt freshman Michael Lorenzo (Bellefonte, Pa.) rounds out the returning veterans at 165. Lorenzo posted a 1-9 mark in unattached action in 2006-07. Both Bollinger and Everett could move up from 157 to battle at 165 as well.
174: Gone is All-American James Yonushonis, but looking to fill those rather impressive shoes is red-shirt sophomore David Erwin (Urbana, Ohio). Erwin started as a true freshman at 165 in 2005-06, putting together an outstanding freshman campaign before an injury in the Big Ten Tournament kept him from advancing to nationals. The talented Ohio-native red-shirted last year and is now bigger, stronger and more driven to have an impact up at 174 pounds. Erwin went 23-8 as a true freshman, including a 10-2 dual match record and a 5-1 mark in Big Ten action. Looking to challenge Erwin at 174 is junior Jack Decker (Roseland, N.J.). Decker has started in each of his freshman and sophomore years (with a red-shirt in between) and has the potential to be an impact wrestler for Penn State as well. He has a 30-30 career record, including a 10-6 mark last year and a 20-24 record as a true freshman at 149 in 2004-05.
184: Junior Phil Bomberger (Port Royal, Pa.) and sophomore Mike Ward (Mayfield, Ohio) split time at 184 last year and the talented duo returns to battle for a starting spot again this season. Bomberger went 8-14 overall and has a 16-20 career record. Ward was 14-11 last season, which was his red-shirt freshman campaign. Junior Neil Bretz (Carlisle, Pa.), who has been plagued by injuries, returns this season. Bretz went 1-5 as a starter in duals in 2005-06.
197: Senior All-American Davis will embark upon his journey to become only Penn State's fourth four-time All-American and to grab the national title that has slipped away from him for three years. Already owner of a Big Ten title, will carry a 90-19 record into his final season after last year's 28-5 mark. He was a perfect 8-0 in Big Ten duals and was 7-0 in pins. Davis has a superb 41-5 career dual match record, is 22-1 in pins and has collected 169 career dual match points. Redshirt freshmen Nathan Andrews (Spring Mills, Pa.) and Justin Hepburn (Williamsport, Pa.) return at 197 as well. Andrews went 6-10, splitting time at 197 and HWT, last year in unattached action while Hepburn did not see any action. Joining the upper-weight wars will be freshman Jared Platt (Blairstown, N.J.). Platt won two Pan American Junior Gold Medals over the summer, was a two-time prep national champion and a junior national runner-up.
HWT: With 2007 national runner-up Aaron Anspach denied another year by the NCAA, the heavyweight position will be one of the most hotly contested weight classes in the Penn State wrestling room. Sophomores John Laboranti (Scranton, Pa.) and Stefan Tighe (Erie, Pa.) will return after transfer seasons last year. Laboranti did not wrestle in 2006-07 while Tighe went 8-3 in unattached action and competed in the FILA Junior World Championships this summer. Laboranti transferred prior to last season from Virginia Tech while Tighe transferred in from Nebraska. Joining that veteran duo will be fellow sophomore Brendan Herlihy (Fairfield, Conn.) posted a solid 7-8 mark last season as a red-shirt freshman. True freshman Cameron Wade (Twinsburg, Ohio) comes in ready to compete for mat time as well. Wade was a two-time Ohio State Champion and a three-time finalist at St. Peter Chanel High School.
THE SCHEDULE AHEAD
The Nittany Lions will face one of the nation's toughest schedules once again. Penn State will face eight of the nation's best in its usual swing through the Big Ten this year. In addition, Penn State has put together a daunting non-conference slate that includes a return to the National Duals and a trip to Oklahoma State.
The season begins with Wrestle-Offs on Nov. 4 and kicks off with a home dual against Maryland on Sunday, Nov. 11. Eastern power Hofstra comes to Rec Hall for a dual on Saturday, Nov. 17. Penn State will then take part in the Nittany Lion Open on Sunday, Dec. 2. The Nittany Lions hit the road for the first time with a dual swing that takes them to Lehigh (Friday, Dec. 7) and Oklahoma State (Sunday, Dec. 9). The dual in Stillwater will be the last of the fall semester.
The spring session begins with the yearly match-up with Cornell. This time, Penn State and the Big Red will tangle in Rec Hall on Friday, Jan. 4. The next weekend, the Nittany Lions will travel to Cedar Falls, Iowa, to take part in the 2008 National Duals. The annual dual match tournament once again features a field of the country's best collegiate programs. The only other non-conference dual on the schedule is the season finale at Lock Haven on Saturday, February 23.
Penn State's eight-dual Big Ten schedule begins with a trip to Iowa on Sunday, Jan. 20. The Lions then visit Ohio State on Friday, Jan. 25, before returning home for a Rec Hall meeting with Indiana on Sunday, Jan. 27. A two dual swing through Illinois starts at Northwestern on Friday, Feb. 1, and concludes at Illinois on Sunday, Feb. 3. The Nittany Lions then host Michigan on Friday, Feb. 8, Michigan State on Friday, Feb. 15, and Purdue on Sunday, Feb. 17. Wisconsin and Minnesota rotate off the conference schedule this year.
"We've created a very challenging schedule this season, one that will test us from the start and prepare us well for the Big Ten and NCAA tournaments," Sunderland said. "We face some of the East's top programs early on and return to the National Duals. Then, in the Big Ten portion of the schedule, we once again dive into the rugged conference battles that really prepare you mentally and physically for March. I'm very pleased at the make-up of the schedule and that our fans will once again be able to see the nation's best in Rec Hall."
"Our goal, every year, is to win the Big Ten title and NCAA crown," Sunderland said. "That is what every team begins every season focusing on. To make runs at those goals, we need to focus on each portion of the season as a rung on a ladder, as a single step in our path towards becoming champions. The generous support of the Penn State Wrestling Booster Club enabled us to travel to Romania as a team this summer, and that experience helped this unit bond early and had them excited to return for the start of the new campaign. The pre-season needs to be focused and intense. We then need to attack the non-conference portion of our schedule with fire and balance. We can't peak too soon, yet we need to have early success to maintain our level of confidence. The Big Ten season is where things really ramp up and it's a gut-check time in terms of stamina, both mental and physical. The entire season builds up to the two tournaments in March and we need to focus on every little aspect of the journey."